Last night was the Newbie game, and they were fighting a substantial force of Gorgoth on the slippery stones of a scree slope. A trap rigged by the groups' rogue had not worked as well as planned, and what they had initially thought would be a massacre in their favour was turning into something deeply unpleasant.
As the line of heroes was smashed into by the roaring greenskins, a brutal battle ensued, which saw several heroes come close to death. However, little by little, they managed to push the monstrous humanoids back, the turning point being when the warforged barbarian Vogh, unleashed a Howling Strike that obliterated no less than six minions, and sent the rest of the monsters fleeing for their lives.
Had those monsters decided to stay and fight, things may not have gone quite as well for the group.
Morale is an important element in many battles, and indeed, in our mundane world, has been the ethereal essence that has made the difference between victory or defeat in many conflicts. However, despite appearing in one form or another in earlier forms of D&D, in 4e there were no rules for managing morale.
Now to be honest, this wasn't an issue for me. As a general rule I don't need it, as common sense tells me whether or not an enemy is going to stay and fight, or run for its life. However, now and then it is useful to have some way of calculating whether or not a foe is going to leg it – for example, in massed warfare, or when dealing with a being who's mind is so alien or primitive that “common sense” does not apply. For these situations I use a very, very simple house rule – Mean Intimidate.
Simply put, have the average of each character's Intimidate skill to hand. Then, if you need to check for enemy morale, make an Intimidate check against their Willpower defence using the average score as a modifier. I tend to apply a few additional modifier's, such as a bonus to the check depending on events in the battle, ranging from +2 (25% of the enemy are dead, a daily just took someone out spectacularly, or something unexpectedly bad happened to them) to +5 (over 50% of enemy force defeated, boss just slain, arrival of unexpected allies for the group). Of course, a penalty may also apply – the presence of a strong leader type enemy may negate the penalties or grant their allies a bonus to their Willpower against morale checks.
It's simple and it works. What do you think?